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The Necessity of Regeneration argued, from the immutable
Constitution of God.
John iii. 3.-Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto
thee, Except a Man be born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God. WHILE the ministers of Christ are discoursing of such a subject, as I have before me in the course of these lectures, and particularly in this branch of them which I am now entering upon, we may surely, with the utmost reason, address our hearers, in those words of Moses to Israel, in the conclusion of his dying discourse: Set your hearts unto all the words which I testify among you this day; which ye shall command your children to observe and do, even all the words of this law; for it is not a vain thing for you, because it is your life*. That must undoubtedly be your life, concerning which the Lord Jesus Christ himself, the incarnate wisdom of God, The faithful and true witnesst, has said, and said it with a solemn repeated asseveration, that without it a Man cannot see the kingdom of God.
The occasion of his saying it deserves our notice; though the niceties of the context must be waved in such a series of sermons as this. He said it to a Jew of considerable rank, and, as it appears, one of the grand Sanhedrim, or chief council of the nation; who came not only for his own private satisfaction, but in the name of several of his brethren, to discourse with Christ concerning his doctrine, at the first passover he attended at Jerusalem, after he had entered on his public ministry. Our Lord, would, to be sure, be peculiarly careful, what answer he returned to such an enquiry: And this is his answer, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God: As if he should have said, “ If the princes of Israel enquire after my character, let them know,
+ Rev. ijj, 14.
* Deut. xxxii. 46, 47. VOL. II.
that I came to be a preacher of regeneration, and that the blessings of that kingdom which I am come to reveal and erect, are to be peculiar to renewed and sanctified souls ; who may, by an easy and natural figure, be said to be born again.” And the figure appears very intelligible, and very instructive to those, that will seriously consider it; and might lead us into a variety of pertinent and useful remarks,
You easily perceive, that to be born again, must intimate a very great change; coming, as it were, into a new world, as an infant does; when after having lived a while a kind of vegetative life in the darkness and confinement of the womb, it is born into open day; feels the vital air rushing in on its lungs, and light forcing itself upon the awakened eyes; hears sounds before unknown; opens its mouth to receive a yet untasted food; and every day becomes acquainted with new objects, and exerts new powers, till it grows up to the maturity of a perfect man. Such, and in some respects greater and nobler than this, is the change which regeneration makes in a heart, before unacquainted with religion; as you may have seen at large from the preceding discourses.
But I might further observe, that the phrase in the text may also express the humbling nature of this change, as well as the greatness of it. Erasmus gives this turn to the words; and it is so edifying, that I should have mentioned it at least, though I had not thought it so just, as it appears. To be born again, must signify To become as a little child*; and our Lord expressly and frequently assures us, that without this we cannot enter into the kingdom of heavent. He has pronounced the very first of his blessings on Poverty of spirits; and where this is wanting, the soul will never be entitled to the rest. A mild and humble, a docile and tractable temper, a freedom from avarice and ambition, and an indifference to those great toys of which men are generally so fond, are all essential parts of the christian character; and they have all, in one view or another, been touched upon in the preceding discourses. Let it be forgiven however, if, considering the importance of the case, you are told again, that In malice ye must be childrens; and that If any man think himself wise, he must become a child, and even a fool, that he may be wise indeed l.
I might observe once more, that these words intimate the divine power, by which this great and humbling change is
* Mat. xviii. 3. g 1 Cor. xiv. 20.
# Mat. v. 3.
+ Mark x. 15. Luke xviii. 17.
effected. Our first formation and birth is the work of God, and no less really so in the succeeding generations of men, than the first production of Adam was, when God formed him of the dust of the earth, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life*. We may each of us say, with respect to the natural birth, and in an accommodated sense with respect to the spiritual too, Thine eyes did see my substance, being as yet imperfect, and in thy book all my members, which in continuance of time were fashioned, were written, when as yet there was none of themt. All the first gracious impressions that were made upon the mind, and all the gradual advances of them, till Christ was formed in the heart, and the new creature animated, must, as I shall hereafter shew at large, be ultimately and principally referred into a divine operation; and in this sense, it is God that brings every good purpose in the mind to the birth, and God that gives strength to bring forth 1.
But I omit the farther prosecution of these remarks at present, because they coincide with what I have said in former discourses, or what will occur in those which are yet to come: And shall only further consider the words, as they are a confirmation of, and therefore a proper introduction to what I am to lay before
you under the third general head of these discourses; in which, as I have already shewn, who may be said to be in an unregenerate state, and how great that change is which regeneration makes in the soul, I shall now proceed, Thirdly, To shew the high importance, yea, the absolute neces
sity of this change.
Our Lord expresses it in a very lively and awakening manner, in these few determinate words, which are here before us: Verily, verily I say unto thee, except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. You see how emphatical the words are: He who is himself invariable truth, The same yesterday, to-day, and for evers, repeats it again and again, with as much solemnity as die ever uses upon any occasion; repeats it to us, as he did to Nicodemus, “ Verily, verily I say unto you, that is, I seriously deliver it as a truth of infinite moment; except a man, i. e. any man, whatever his profession, whatever his knowledge, or whatever his privileges may be; though he be a Jew, though he be a Pharisee, though he be, as thou Nicodemus art, a ruler, or a senator; except he be born again, and have that great change, so often described in the word of God, wrought by the operation of the Spirit in his mind, he cannot see the kingdom of God: He cannot by an means approach it, so as to enter into it, or have any share in the important blessings which it contains.”
* Gen. ii. 7.
$ Heb. xiii. 8.
+ Psal. cxxxix. 16. Isa. Ixvi. 9.
That we may more fully understand, and enter into this weighty argument, I shall from these words, 1. Briefly consider, what it is to see the kingdom of God. II. Shew, how absolutely impossible it is, that any unregenerate
man should see it. And, III. How wretched a thing it is, to be deprived of the sight, and
enjoyment of it.
And I am well persuaded, that if you diligently attend to these things, you will be inwardly and powerfully convinced, that no argument could be more proper to demonstrate the importance and necessity of regeneration, than this, which our Lord has suggested in these awful, emphatical, and comprehensive words.
1. I am to shew you, what it is to see the kingdom of God.
And for the explication of it, it will be necessary to consider,—what we are to understand by this kingdom; and what is meant by seeing it. (1.] I would shew you, what we are to understand by the king.
dom of God,
will pardon me, if I state the matter pretty largely; because the phrase is used in scripture in different senses; and the true interpretation of many passages in it depends on a proper distinction between them. You may observe then for the explication of this phrase,- that the kingdom of God in general signifies “ the society of those, who profess themselves the servants and subjects of Christ ;” and in consequence of this,--that there are some passages, in which it peculiarly relates to "the imperfect dispensation of this kingdom, and the beginning of it in the world;"_and others, in which it relates to "the more perfect form, which this society is to bear in the world of glory.” 1. The kingdom of God, or the kingdom of heaven (for they
are synonymous phrases,) does in the general signify “ the
and therefore the original of it is to be traced from the Old Testament : And I apprehend it to be this. Almost every christian is aware, that in the early days of the Jewish commonwealth, as Samuel with great propriety expresses it, God was their King*Jehovah was not only the great object of their religious regard, as the creator and supporter of the whole world ; but he was also their supreme civil magistrate, settling the forms of their political government, and reserving to himself some of the chief acts of royal authority. They did indeed afterwards desire another King, like the other nations round about themt. But still those kings, being appointed by God, were indeed to be looked upon as no other than his vicegerents, though another kind of governors than he originally instituted. By degrees their peculiar regard to the civil authority of God among them, as well as to his religious authority which was nearly connected with it, in a great measure wore out; and their government went through a great many ditferent forms, which it would be unnecessary here particularly to describe. Nevertheless God was pleased to declare by King David, and by many others of his holy prophets, that he would in due time interpose to erect another, and a far more extensive kingdom in the world : Not indeed upon the same political principles, with that which he exercised over the Jews; which principles would by no means have suited this extensive design : But it should be a kingdom, in which the authority of the God of heaven should be acknowledged, and his laws of universal righteousness observed, with greater care, and to nobler purposes, as well as by a vastly greater number of subjects, than ever before. This kingdom he determined to commit to the government of the Messiah, who with regard to this was called The Lord's anointed, his king whom he set upon his holy hill of Zions; and to whom indeed he would Give all power, not only on earth, but in heaven toos; so that having trained up his subjects here, in the discipline of holiness and obedience, he should at length translate them to another and a better country, that is, an heavenly, where they should see his glory, and should reign with him in eternal life.
This plainly appears, from the whole tenor of the Old and New Testament, to have been the grand plan of God, with respect to the Messiah's kingdom: And you will easily see, that coming from God, as its great author, and referring to
* 1 Sam. xii. 12.
+ 1 Sam. viii. 5.
* Psal. ii. 2, 6.
Mat. xxviii. 18.